The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 29
THE BURNING OF THE WRECK
"When Lesher and Baxter got back to where they left us they were very bitter against you," began Gibson. "They told us that you had tried to make them work like niggers, fixing up this house. They said that they wanted to come right back and bring us here, but you wouldn't let them go until the house was finished."
"Which is not true, as all of us here know," said Captain Blossom.
"Lesher also said that you were angry at us for leaving the ship before the rest, and that you had said you would have us all tried for mu tiny the first chance you got. Baxter said the same, and also told us that you were going to dump all the rum and other liquor into the ocean, so that the mate and none of the others could get a drop of it while they stayed on the islands."
"I didn't say that, but I did say that Lesher shouldn't have all he wanted," replied the captain.
"This sort of talk made most of the sailors wild," went on Gibson. "Then Lesher made a speech to them, and they voted to stick by him through thick and thin and not let you rule them. He promised them all the liquor they wanted, and told them that if they stuck by him the whole lot could swear in court that they had found the wreck deserted, so that they could get whatever was coming in the way of salvage. Then he handed around some liquor he had brought along, and some pistols, and most of them said they would stick to him, as I said before."
"What about going directly to the wreck?" asked Tom.
"That was Baxter's idea, and it wasn't thought of until we were on our way to this spot. Baxter said that if we captured the ship we would have you at our mercy, for sooner or later your provisions would run out, and you'd be begging for something to eat."
"The scoundrel!" cried Dick. "So he thought to starve us into submission, eh? Well, he shan't do it."
"I said I didn't think it would be fair on the young ladies," continued Gibson. "But he told me he'd take care of the girls after he had brought you to your knees."
"He'll never take care of me!" cried Dora.
"Nor me!" came from Nellie.
"I'd rather die than leave this place in Dan Baxter's company," added Grace.
"Captain, I want you to understand that Gibson and I didn't agree to what they wanted to do," came from Marny. "But we were over-ruled, and we had to hold our tongues for fear of being knocked down or shot."
"Do you want to join our crowd?" asked Dick bluntly.
"We do, and if you'll take us in we'll promise to stand by you to the end, no matter what comes. We know they've got the best of it—having the ship's stores—but we don't care for that. They are a drunken, good-for-nothing crowd, and we are done with them."
"All right, men, I think we can trust you," said Captain Blossom. "It's a pity that Hackenhaven was lost overboard and eat up by the sharks. We could rather have spared Lesher."
"Or Dan Baxter," observed Tom.
"With three gone they have but eight men left on the wreck," said Sam. "And we now number seven men and three ladies. If we stand our ground, I can't see as we have much to fear from them."
"It will be all right so long as they keep their distance," said Captain Blossom. "But if they come over here in a body when they are half full of drink, there is sure to be a row and probably some shooting. Still, we needn't try to meet trouble halfway."
The sailors gave some more of the details of their doings while in Lesher's company, and then they were provided with additional clothing, and each was given a pistol and some ammunition. Nothing was said to them about the cave or the provisions stored there, Captain Blossom deem ing it best to wait and make sure if they were to be thoroughly trusted.
"You see," said he, "they may be straight enough, or they may be spies sent by Lesher to find out just what we propose to do."
"They look honest," said Dick. "I should trust them."
The long pull on the bay had worn the two sailors out, and they were soon sleeping soundly. The girls followed, and then the boys started to turn in.
Sam had just gone to rest, and Tom was following, when Dick, who had stepped out on the beach, uttered a cry.
"What's up?" asked Captain Blossom.
"Look toward the wreck. What does that light mean?"
The captain looked, and then ran for his spy glass.
"The Golden Wave is afire!" he exclaimed. "That light is coming up out of the cabin!"
"The wreck is on fire!" shouted Tom, and this cry brought everybody out once more.
With remarkable rapidity the light grew brighter, until the heavens and the entire bay were lit up by the conflagration. There was a strong wind blowing, which carried the sparks to the jungle back of the ship. Listening intently, they could occasionally hear the roaring and crackling of the flames.
"The ship is doomed, that is certain," said Sam. "I wonder if all who were on board escaped?"
"The fire has caught in the brushwood on the shore," announced Captain Blossom, who had continued to use the spyglass.
"Can you see any of the men moving around?" questioned Dora.
"I thought I saw one or two, but I am not certain. Most of the men must have escaped, but if they were drunk, as Gibson says, perhaps, some have been caught like rats in a trap."
The flames continued to roar upward, and toward the island back of the ship, for over an hour. During that time they heard two dull explosions, caused by some barrels of chemicals catching fire. The second explosion sent the bits of burning wood and rigging flying in all directions.
"That will leave the mutineers without a home and without stores," said old Jerry. "They're in a poor fix now."
"I'd like to know how the fire started," said the captain. "Can you explain it?" he went on, to Gibson and Marny.
"I've got an idea," said Marny. "Just before we came away old man Shular went down in the hold with a light to look for some certain brand of liquor we were carrying. He was more than half drunk, and he most likely dropped his lantern and set something on fire."
At the end of an hour and a half the flames had died down to the water's edge. A few small bits of wreckage continued to burn, and also a grove of trees and brushwood on the island. But before morning every bit of the fire was out, and only a heavy smoke showed where the Golden Wave had once rested.
No one had thought of retiring again, and sunrise found them all worn out, and anxious to know what was going to happen next.
"You can rest assured that some of them will be over here sooner or later," said Dick. "Now they have no place to shelter them, and no provisions, they will want us to help them out."
"What will you do, Dick?" asked Dora.
"That depends on Captain Blossom, Dora. Personally I want nothing to do with any of them."
"But some may be badly burnt, and they may need medicine and bandages," came from Nellie.
"We can send them whatever we can spare," said Tom. "But I object strongly to letting anybody come here."
It was decided to remain on guard during the day, and all were cautioned to keep within call of the house. The bay was scanned for the sight of a rowboat, but none put in an appearance.
"I'll wager that those who did escape are sorry they quarreled with us," said Sam.
"Especially Dan Baxter," answered Grace. "He'll find that living out in the woods isn't so pleasant as it looks."
By nightfall all grew anxious, and sat in front of the house to discuss the situation.
"It can't be possible that all on board were burnt up," said Dick. "That would be horrible."
"Oh, some must have escaped," answered Captain Blossom. "But they may be suffering from burns, or they may have no means of getting here. With the ship burnt up, and all the tools gone, it would be no easy matter to build even the roughest kind of a raft."
"What do you think about some of us rowing over to what is left of the wreck?" asked Sam.
"I was thinking of that. But, if we do that, we had better wait until to-morrow morning. You can't see much in the dark."
"If I thought anybody was dying for the want of aid, I'd go over," said Tom. "We all know what brutes Lesher and Baxter are. They wouldn't hesitate to go off and leave some of the others to die where they had fallen."
"I think Tom is right, and some of us ought to go over," said Dick.
"I'm willing to go," announced old Jerry. "We can move around like cats in the dark, so they won't know we are near until we tell 'em."
"You might take some medicines along, and some bandages," said Nellie.
"Take a bottle of sweet oil and some flour," put in Grace. "They are both good for burns."
The matter was talked over until midnight, and then it was settled that Dick, Tom, and old Jerry should take the largest rowboat and some bandages and medicines and row over to the vicinity of the fire. They were to land on the beach below what was left of the wreck and crawl through the bushes on a tour of discovery. If they found that they were not absolutely needed, they were to return without making their presence known to the mutineers and Dan Baxter.
The two boys and the old sailor were soon on the way. Care had been taken to wrap cloth around the oars where they slipped in the rowlocks, so that the boat moved through the water as noiselessly as a shadow.
Once out in the bay the boys and old Jerry pulled with a will, and in less than half an hour the beach north of what was left of the wreck was gained. They approached with great caution.
"Do you see or hear anything?" whispered Tom.
"No," answered Dick, and then the rowboat grated on the sand, and all leaped ashore.
With their medicines and bandages in their pockets, and pistols in hand, they commenced to crawl through the bushes. Before long they came to a point from which they could look toward the wreck. All was dark and deserted, and the air was filled with the smell of burnt wood and water.
"I don't see anybody, do you?" whispered Dick.
"Nary a soul in sight," answered old Jerry.
With equal care they moved around to the other side of the wreck, over a mass of burnt brushwood.
"Hark!" said Tom.
They listened, and, from a distance, made out a faint groan.
"That is somebody, and in great pain," said Dick. "Come on," and he led the way.
Around a pile of rocks they found a sailor. He was propped up against a tree, and was suffering from some burns on his legs and feet.
"Bostwick!" said old Jerry.
"Oh! oh! Help me!" groaned Bostwick piteously. "Give me a drink of water!"
"Where are the others?" asked Dick.
"Gone! They left me to take care of myself. Oh, the wretches! Please help me; won't you, for the love of Heaven!"
"Yes, we will help you," answered Tom.
"You are certain they have all gone?" went on Dick, as he got out some oil and bandages, while Tom ran for water.
"Where did they go?"
"They went—oh, my legs and feet! How they smart! They went to the—the—house! Lesher said you must have set the ship on fire, and Baxter said the same. They—oh, what a pain! Please be careful!" Bostwick gulped down the water Tom gave him. "That is good."
"What did they say, Bostwick?" asked Dick, as he continued to work over the hurt man.
"They said they were going to pay you back. They all went armed; that is, all but me and Shular. Shular was burnt up. They said they were going to shoot you down on sight, and then run the house to suit themselves, I said—oh, the pain. I—I—how weak I am!"
And with those words the burnt sailor fell back in a dead faint.